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Florida's New Approach to Creating Prosperity

5:45 PM, Sep 29, 2011   |    comments
Doug Darling is the executive director of Florida's new Department of Economic Opportunity. He aims to change the way Florida attracts business to the state.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida starts a new era in its efforts to create jobs with the birth of a new department on October 1. As Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity officially comes to life on Saturday, it fulfills one of Gov. Rick Scott's main goals for economic development.

Scott has often said one of the main complaints he heard during his campaign for governor was from businesspeople. They thought the state's economic development team was too bureaucratic, too scattered and too slow.

So the governor convinced state lawmakers to create DEO with the argument that Florida needed a streamlined team that could quickly respond to business opportunities.

The new department houses under one roof three former state agencies: the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, the Agency for Workforce Innovation and the Department of Community Affairs.

The energetic new leader for DEO, Doug Darling, brings a varied background in state government and the U.S. Marine Corps to this job.

He has his work cut out for himself with the state's unemployment rate hovering at 10.7 percent and more than 900,000 Floridians out of work.

But Darling said he's looking forward to the mission ahead.

"I'm excited. I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

One of Darling's challenges will be to align all of state government's economic development efforts. In the past, he says a whole host of agencies and boards had their hands in the process but did their own thing for the most part.

He plans to change that.

"We brought together for the first time ever more than 20 entities in the state: Visit Florida, the Black Business Investment Board, DOT, DEP, the list goes on and on of entities who in their own right were doing economic development but never were doing it with the same strategic goal in mind." 

DEO is built to become Florida's economic development powerhouse -- a place that streamlines assistance for businesses and responds more quickly to potential deals.

Darling points to the Time Warner deal recently announced as an example. The company submitted an application for incentives on September 6. Darling approved it on September 12. Gov. Scott signed off on it three days later.

Florida handled the potential deal with urgency and now more than 500 new jobs are headed to the Tampa area.

"That is what the alignment of Enterprise Florida and DEO is going to bring to businesses who are looking to expand or come to Florida to start their business - a responsive, flexible, rapid response. We're in competition with 49 other states and every country in the world for businesses who want to come to a place where they believe they can get certainty about the decisions they're going to make. And if DEO can do anything, it's help those businesses reach that certainty faster."

While Darling is excited about the work ahead, he understands Scott has high expectations for the Department of Economic Opportunity. Scott constantly reminds people he's on a mission to create 700,000 jobs over seven years - a mark that may seem daunting as the economy struggles to find a foothold.

But Darling relishes the challenge.

"You can't stop trying. And that's going to be the culture of DEO. We're not going to stop trying to get those businesses to say yes."

First Coast News

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